Monthly Archives: October 2013

I Have 51 Slaves Working for Me

I have 51 slaves working for me, according to an innovative and entertaining survey I took today at After taking an inventory of my life habits, including diet, technology use, and wardrobe, the survey estimated how many slaves were probably involved at some level of the supply chain in the products I use daily. The creators of the survey aim to create awareness about unethical sourcing of raw materials, which is a huge contributing factor to the 29 million slaves working across many global industries. Made In A Free World is creating a movement of businesses & consumers who use their voices and their collective buying power to persuade their favorite brands to ensure that their raw materials aren’t being mined, picked, or farmed by slaves.

I was researching current stats on modern-day slavery because The Aurora Crossing is performing & speaking about human trafficking at FCC North Hollywood on November 25th @ 7pm. (You can come! It’s gonna be awwwwwwesome.) The goal of the evening is to raise awareness about modern-day slavery and provide ways for people to respond with effective, compassionate action. After a couple of hours of browsing YouTube videos of CNN special reports and trafficking documentaries, I was completely toast. I definitely needed to be snuggled. I was angry, impassioned, hopeless, and overwhelmed.

Fortunately, my friend Jessica called and I offloaded my thoughts, sans filter. Mostly, we just asked questions without answers. (What vulnerabilities allow people to get trafficked? How will it stop? Is prevention more important than aftercare? Is giving money enough? Is prostitution ever a woman’s choice? Is working in sweatshop more dignified than starving? Are we even asking the right questions?)

The only conclusions I drew were these. I think there are 3 different ways people participate in the evil of modern-day slavery.

First, some people knowingly perpetrate crimes directly against other humans, for profit or pleasure. These are traffickers, pimps, crime syndicates, Johns, and businesses who willingly utilize forced labor.

Secondly, some people participate in these crimes indirectly, by not pursuing justice when they are fully aware and witness to slavery, for profit or power. These are corrupt police officers and government officials, hotel owners, bar owners, ordinary citizens, etc. These people are typically paid off for their silence.

Thirdly, some people unknowingly and indirectly participate in crimes against other humans through their consumerism. This is, um, everyone.

English: Logo of TJ Maxx

There is currently no standardized measure that allows consumers to track whether their products are slavery free (although Made In A Free World is developing one). That information would give all of us choice about how we want to participate with those brands. Until we can know, however, our blind consumerism is fueling the demand for cheap (or free) labor that is daily stealing the dignity of men, women, and children.

But what can I do about that? Stop shopping at TJ Maxx for my cheap deals? …..I’ll be honest. I take great pride in how little I can spend on an outfit. It’s a game. Just check out #maxxinista on Twitter! So… Should I only wear anti-slavery t-shirts or hippie outfits that were hand sewn by somebody in a commune in Northern California? Should I grow my own cotton?

According to Made In A Free World, I can use my voice to influence the companies I already support with my dollars. Many brands, due to the mass globalization of materials sourcing, aren’t aware that their raw materials may be handled by slaves. Made In A Free World has a sweeping economic-driven vision that includes uniting consumers, businesses, non-profits, and governments under the shared value of slavery-free production.

Slavery… is an “all of us” issue. It’s consumers, non-profits, academics, governments, community groups, and businesses working together. Made In A Free World is a place where all of us can leverage our unique strengths and global influence. Consumers can’t point fingers. Governments can’t shirk rule of law. And Businesses can’t look the other way. Made In A Free World makes it possible to work together in order to achieve more than we possibly can do alone. We’ve brought together millions of committed consumers from every country in the world ready to support businesses who demonstrate their shared value of freedom. We’re working with top researchers and analysts to empirically identify where slavery is mostly prevalent. We’ve partnered with leading non-profits in the field to implement sustainable change. We’re coordinating with some of the highest governmental offices in the world to codify our values. We’ve influenced some of the largest global enterprises whose buying power can… influence global markets.

~Made In A Free World website

Their website makes it easy for us to invite (encourage? persuade? demand?) our favorite brands to commit to transparency in their supply chains. On average, a brand responds after receiving 363 letters from consumers.

Further, they are encouraging consumers to shop with their values and support businesses who are committed to slavery free goods. According to their website, the average (1st world) person spends about $4,500 annually on products created with forced labor. So far, 1.5 million people worldwide have joined them to take a stand against unethical sourcing. Collectively, that adds up to $6.2 BILLION dollars each year to influence global markets.

The issue of modern-day slavery can leave us feeling numb, overwhelmed, and helpless. Often, we hear about atrocities but have no idea what we can do to make a difference. The Aurora Crossing is committed to not talking about human trafficking unless we give you a way to respond with a small action, even if it is just to grow in awareness.

So where do we start? What can we do? Apparently we don’t all have to become homesteaders or move to the prairie to live ethical lives. So here’s today’s assignment, kids:

Find out how many slaves are working for you and share the results with your friends on FB or Twitter at What’s Your Slavery Footprint? Share the info on our FB page!

Take it a step further and ask your favorite brand to commit to a Free World, by clicking here.




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Why Do White People Get To Make the Rules?

When I’m not writing & performing with the Aurora Crossing, I teach music for a wonderful arts program in K-6 classrooms in public elementary schools. Today I was sharing the story of Marian Anderson, the first African-American opera singer in the United States. Marian grew up in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, singing in her church choir. After being rejected from a music school because she was black, she eventually studied under the famous opera master Giuseppe Boghetti. Later, she moved to Europe where she became wildly famous singing major roles with several opera companies. After returning to the U.S. as a world-renowned opera star, the D.A.R. wouldn’t let her sing at Constitution Hall because they had a “white only” performer policy. After much public outrage, she was invited by the Secretary of the Interior to sing a concert on Easter morning 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 75,000 people showed up, and many more heard her stunning contralto voice over the live radio broadcast. To watch the video of her performance, click here.


American contralto Marian Anderson performs in...


I love telling this story. In fact, I love telling any story about black history and music. I teach in a vastly multi-ethnic school district with children of many nationalities, languages, and colors. I love storytelling as a tool to cultivate empathy in children so that they have a felt experience of injustice. I want them to connect with experiences of unfairness, in hopes that they will remember what it feels like if they are ever in positions of power. I also want to hold up heroes of many colors so that my minority students will have role models that look like them.


(Incidentally, a 4th grade girl cheered when I said we would be learning about a woman today. Looking over my lessons, I realized I have been teaching entirely about male musicians. I didn’t know that exclusion had an effect until she burst with excitement that we were learning about someone like her…)

Today, I got caught in my own story.




I was in a classroom of 2nd and 3rd graders, explaining the segregation laws that often demanded Marian Anderson perform her concerts twice—once for a white audience, and again for a black audience.


A little girl sitting in the front row of the multi-colored carpet raised her hand. She was tiny—couldn’t have been more than 7 years old—and her brow was furrowed with genuine perplexity.


“Why did the white people get to make the rules?”


I looked at her small Asian body—the one God gave her—perhaps Thai or Vietnamese. She looked at me intently, as if this were the first time she’d been informed about the way things are and was wondering why no one else saw the obvious, glaring unfairness. There was silence in the space where her question hung, unanswered. I fumbled for words, looking at the classroom teacher for help. “Well…you know… that’s a good question… and it’s a longer answer than I have time for… but it wasn’t fair, was it?”


The truth is: I didn’t have a reason for her.


How could I explain the rise of the Anglo-Saxon race, the dominance of European culture, and their desire to conquer and possess other lands for power and wealth? How could I explain the Industrial Revolution and slavery and internment camps and white-only swimming pools and white-only Congresses? How could I explain Chinks and Japs and how most Latinos are called “Mexicans” even if they are from Guatemala or Peru? How could I explain that up until 6 years ago, her home country hadn’t embraced a person of color as their leader, and that we’ve never had a woman President? How can I explain that the church in America is still largely divided along racial and cultural lines—a VASTLY DIFFERENT gospel than the radical, uncomfortable, difficult racial reconciliation proposed by Paul in the 1st century between Jews and Gentiles?


What do you say to a 7-year-old? There is no explanation that could withstand the scrutiny of such innocence. The system that she could see through in 5 minutes has been in place for centuries.  Guileless, she exposed 1,000 years of cultural judgment, domination, power, affluence, and injustice. Her question extinguished any possible justification I might have been tempted to come up with, and exposed something in me that’s ugly:


I teach about racial equality & reconciliation… but I have never, not once, asked why did white people get to make the rules? I have simply accepted that this is the way it was. (Ahem, is?) Maybe some sociological, historical framework would assuage the consciences of smarter people, but her question stung me. It struck at the heart of the matter: I’ve never asked that question because on some level, I’m glad that my racial group has held the power. On some level, I’m grateful that I haven’t been a part of an oppressed racial group.


I looked at her sweet, upturned face. Why do white people get to make the rules? It wasn’t the injustice that got me—it was the fact that I never asked a question that was so obvious. Suddenly, I could see it: the power gulf between this little girl and me. The systemic, and sometimes personal, racism that this little girl would face in her lifetime.


Afterwards, I left the class and stood outside in the bright sunlight, crying.


I had no answer for her. Only questions about her future, and mine. It is painful to think that doors open to me that are closed for her. Invisible doors, perhaps. They don’t have signs on them anymore that say “White Only.”But I’ve lived long enough to know that most doors of power are opened through white cultural morays. I can walk right through. If she can’t catch onto them (and perhaps forsake her own cultural heritage and ethnicity to ascribe to them), she will be left outside, maybe still asking the question:


Why do white people get to make the rules?


What do you think? Leave a comment and see if you can give me an explanation that would make sense to a 7-year-old.


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An Unexpected Sunrise

“And yet day and night meet fleetingly at twilight and dawn…and their merging sometimes affords the beholder the most enchanted moments of all the twenty four hours. A sunrise or sunset can be ablaze with brilliance and arouse all the passion, all the yearning, in the soul of the beholder.” 
― Mary BaloghA Summer to Remember

This morning I took a walk with my husband Tim, winding through the not-quite-awake neighborhood adjacent to our apartment complex. As we stepped outside, my eyes were drawn eastward by a rare phenomenon in modern life: the sky before sunrise. It wasn’t really that early—6:35? The mountains had an expansive halo of low hanging clouds, all tangerine and pink grapefruit and lemony. Those pink streaks stretched behind me, westward, across the entire expanse of baby blue, like hands reaching for a sleeping child to lift her out of bed.


(Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)


As cars passed on a busy North-South running street, I wondered how many people were looking east at the quickly changing colors. Very few people glanced, even at stoplights, to see the miracle unfolding–this divine, warm welcome to the day. I did see several people checking their smart phones. I guess that’s modern life… we are running on man-made energy, out of touch with natural phenomenon. We don’t need the sun to give us light in order to function, so we’re no longer connected to the miracle of its daily return to us.


I once heard renowned philosopher J.P. Moreland speak about depression and anxiety. He postulated that a lot of modern depression is directly correlated with the invention of the light bulb. Endlessly available artificial light completely destroys our natural bio-rhythms. We were meant to wake with the sun—and sleep with it, too. As a result of having our own “light,” we no longer rely on nature to dictate the beginning and ending of the day: we can decide for ourselves. With blackout curtains, I can start my day at 10am, and go to bed whenever I want, depending on how much I have to accomplish before I can sleep. Moreland described how we are out of touch with the needs of our bodies and emotions, which used to be regulated more or less by nature. The more “plugged in” we are,  the more out of touch we can be with our hunger, thirst, exhaustion, yearning for silence, longing for beauty, desire to be touched, need to cry. Moreland observed that ignoring the natural limitations of our bodies increases the anxiety and depression we experience.


Note: I hate these lightbulbs. I don’t care how efficient they are, it’s psychologically disorienting to change the color spectrum of light from warm to white. Anybody with me?

Modern life in the digital age, thanks to technology and the way we use it–is largely lived disembodied. We are increasingly disconnected from to our bodies and their needs in the present tense. Technology, such as the electric light bulb, creates increasing opportunities for us to tune out the basic, God-given messages our bodies are trying to send us. (Such as: I’m TIRED! Put me to bed!”) Technology “unlimits” us—but to what end? Are we manufacturing some of the increasing anxiety and depression in our lives, by pushing against our limits & ignoring the needs of our bodies?

(Excuse me—I just realized I’m hungry and I’ve been ignoring it for several minutes trying to write this post. I’m going to take a breakfast break. Be right back.)




Daybreak (Photo credit: Ranil






The sunrise this morning was fleeting. It was a brief (and for me, rare) glimpse of glory. As Tim and I watched, holding each other’s stiff, cold fingers, it occurred to me: before the lightbulb, this is how people woke up. Not to loud beeps or the sound of the leaf blower… but to quiet, gentle light flooding the landscape, welcoming them into the day. I briefly imagined living in the 19th century in a cabin on the prairie somewhere, awaking to the gentle undulations of cloud forms drifting overhead, encrusted with color, pierced by a mute radiance. The sunrise was meant to be God’s hospitality at the start of each day—an invitation to consider something beautiful and far larger than the crises we will face in our waking hours. An invitation to remember, even before the day begins, to make the most of our time, because the light is fleeting.

What about you? When’s the last time you saw a sunrise? When was the last time you unplugged from technology? Does the way you use technology detract or add to how you live in your body? Leave a comment and tell us your story!


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